How Not To Lose Your Job To A Robot, Part 1

Paul Dandurand

Part 1 in a 2-part series

My last blog, “Will You Lose Your Project Manager Job To A Robot?”, explored the popular topic of artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential effect on jobs. I discussed what might put project managers at risk of being replaced by robots.

In this and the following post, I will look at what you can do to keep your project manager job in the age of AI robots.

We’ve all witnessed robots doing some pretty cool things already, and there’s no question artificial intelligence performs certain tasks much more effectively and efficiently than humans do. However, I’ve noticed that many people feel powerless over how AI will alter the workplace and fear that these software robots will “take over.” This fear is often based on misunderstanding.

My previous post discussed how it can be pretty useless to fight head-to-head with artificial intelligence. The saying “know your enemy” is quite fitting in this situation. If we understand AI’s current shortcomings, we can then fill in those gaps.

The good news is that AI robots have a pretty big weakness that’s unlikely to be solved in the near future. Simply put, artificial intelligence is simply not “human” enough. At a very high level, this means is that current AI technologies (which are ironically called weak AI) are designed to think in a logical, algorithmic way: a simple “if, then” process. But life is not algorithmic! Our human brains can navigate life’s complexities, which comprise countless unknowns and irrational events. Current machine learning robots simply can’t do this.

Therein lies AI’s Achilles heel: If you want to be the kind of project manager who is not replaceable by a robot, you need to learn how to use your human innovative and empathy strengths and reinvent how you provide value in your role. This can be done in partnership with artificial intelligence.

Reduce time spent on tracking and reports

If there’s one thing you should remember, this is it. We’ve mentioned that a project manager’s role involves so much more than administrative tasks. And anyway, within the next few years, you may have your own bot to do these for you. So if you’re spending most of your time on tracking progress and reporting status – do yourself a favor and stop that now!

Here’s the good news: While robots are good at crunching data and making predictions, they have no understanding of what that data represents. Human intuition and reasoning, thanks to in-depth practical knowledge, is necessary to interpret issues or benefits and communicate the important elements to the right people.

While you may not have a robot that helps you do this yet, it’s a good idea to start moving away from those administrative tasks and practice being a better leader right now. That’s a role AI won’t be able to fill for years.

Improve processes, don’t just follow them

When you get right down to it, machines excel at tasks that are repetitive and sequential. They must be given a set of guidelines in order to execute these processes. When we see robots do their thing, we think “Wow, it’s got a mind of its own!” But that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s not thinking; it’s going through an algorithm that some human created for that specific situation.

Project management is itself a predefined process that we apply and combine with intuition and empathy. The difference between a good project manager and a great one is that the great one looks for ways to engage the team to improve and streamline the process. They do so by facilitating execution, removing obstacles, and motivating their team, and they are capable of making decisions based on little to no data. Computers don’t have these kinds of insights. If there are pain points in those processes, they will simply repeat them. In this case, additional value will be created only if humans and artificial intelligence work together. That’s why it’s important to develop and refine these new skills now, before it’s too late.

Improve your empathy-based project skills

Robots are, well, robotic. They can’t relate to human interpersonal levels like empathy. As mentioned above, a big part of being a great project manager has to do with people. Sure, a computer may someday be able to assign tasks to certain individuals based on their predefined skill sets. But you, as a human, will have insights that the computer doesn’t have.

Real-world example: The computer sends out a notice to all team members because it flagged some kind of anomaly in the data and is predicting that the delivery date is at risk of being delayed by three months. A few team members realize that the problem has a simple fix that requires a junior member to reach out to a customer stakeholder. Without a leader who can fire up his or her team and encourage them to take action, challenges may be overlooked or forgotten.

Engage your team members to be transparent with their progress. Engage them to ask for help when they need it, and encourage those with more knowledge and experience to offer help even if the junior team members aren’t asking. This is the human side of project management that requires empathy.

Empathy-based project management will likely be a specialty that only humans can truly excel at for the foreseeable future. This provides an easy way for you to show additional value in your role—with the help of a computer!

This article originally appeared on the Pie blog and is republished by permission.


Paul Dandurand

About Paul Dandurand

Paul Dandurand is the founder and CEO of PieMatrix, a visual project management application company. Paul has a background in starting and growing companies. Prior to PieMatrix, he was co-founder of FocusFrame, where he wore multiple hats, including those of co-president and director. He helped position FocusFrame as the market leader with process methodology differentiation. FocusFrame was sold to Hexaware in 2006. Previously, he was a management consulting manager at Ernst & Young (now Capgemini) in San Francisco and Siebel Systems in Amsterdam. Paul enjoys photography, skiing, and watching independent films. He earned a B.A. degree in Economics from the University of California at Berkeley.